All heads of state and aspiring world leaders should start walking into the midst of their people
Indian Congress leader Rahul Gandhi (in white, left) walks during his 'Bharat Jodo Yatra' march in Banihal, in Kashmir, on Jan. 27. (Photo: AFP)
“It is only ideas gained from walking that have any worth.” — Nietzsche
Rahul Gandhi, the top leader of India’s opposition Congress Party, completed a 4,080-kilometer-long walk for peace and unity across India on Jan. 29 — no mean achievement in a globalized world of fast and easy travel and urban decay.
The message behind the act of putting one foot in front of another during the harsh cold season in the subcontinent was loud and clear for all serving and aspiring heads of state. It hardly matters whether these leaders subscribe to the Wordsworthian weltanschauung, or swear their allegiance to the Nietzschean school of thought.
For Wordsworth, to walk was to have an encounter, and for Nietzsche, to walk was to overcome — to conquer mountains and to stand tall before the animal spirit within.
Though Gandhi’s walk signified the archetypal urban explorer — footloose and male — by the end, it turned into a metaphor for a journey into the self.
It was striking, though not surprising, that Gandhi reinvented himself at the end of his walk when it reached Punjab, bordering Pakistan, with which India has fought two wars.
Without mincing words, he succinctly told Indians that he had killed his former self.
"Humans are stuck in one place with technology in their pockets, which makes a false world real"
In a land that has given birth to three contemplative world religions, Gandhi’s transformation was something similar to the state of awakening, stressed by India’s great leaders like Buddha, Mahavira, and a number of Hindu yogis, including Maharishi Kapila and his Sankhya philosophy, which focuses on achieving knowledge through engagement.
When 52-year-old Gandhi dusted off his boots to hit the road to feel the pulse of the nation, there were many skeptics, physical trainers, and even his sworn critics, against using walking as a means of getting to know people.
But by the time Gandhi reached the top in Kashmir, from the bottom in the southern tip of Kanyakumari, the picture changed and Indians "liked" his act of lending a patient ear to people from all walks of life.
A clean-shaven youthful Gandhi started the walk, called Bharat Jodo Yatra (March for a United India) in Hindi, in Kanyakumari on Sept. 7 last year and when it reached Kashmir he had turned into a bushy-bearded man. For all 146 days, Gandhi had been preaching that India needs love and unity and was letting strangers walk with him while shedding his image of entitlement.
Humans are born to walk. As cave-dwellers we burned about 4,000 calories a day, most of it spent on walking. But today, humans are stuck in one place with technology in their pockets, which makes a false world real.
Aristotle, the father of most branches of science, was a peripatetic, one who paced. For him, walking allowed talking — and, of course, thinking. Socrates went a step ahead as he was delighted at how his pupils trailed after their teacher.
For Jesus, leader of all leaders, walking formed the most part of his life and he was known for climbing mountains to deliver his best sermons.
To Henry David Thoreau, humans are from nature, and so walking comes naturally. For the US naturalist, walkers are “always merry, light-hearted, and delighted with everything.”
Spanish and American philosopher George Santayana wonders in The philosophy of Travel whether the privilege of “locomotion” is the key to human intelligence.
Those species stuck in one place have proved inferior in intelligence and memory. The roots of vegetables, said Aristotle, are their mouths which fatally attach them to the ground to sustain whatever may flow to them in their limited vicinity.
"Gandhi made it clear that there was nothing political about his walk"
Rahul Gandhi was once stuck in the middle of inaction. The walk became a fait accompli as he was pushed into the corner both as a politician and as an Indian citizen. Often his patriotism and nationality were debated in public places as his mother, Sonia Gandhi, traces her root to Italy. The Italian connection was often interchanged with the Vatican and the US depending upon the context of his opponents.
Lampooned and derided, Gandhi lost the plot and fell from grace in the dynastic politics of South Asia after the current ruling party and its vast trove of IT managers managed to make him a good-for-nothing fellow and slapped many legal cases on him.
His bachelorhood came under scrutiny, so also his anonymous foreign trips and his power to guide his century-old party to victory in the face of current Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s well-oiled electoral machines’ juggernaut. Indians were about to write him off ahead of next year's elections when Gandhi found that walking creates rhythm, movement, and can stir up the spirit to the next level.
He found taking a long step into the midst of people helps stretch hip flexors and calf muscles and swinging arms while walking yields thoughts with compassion and care for cohabitants of the earth.
From day one, Gandhi made it clear that there was nothing political about his walk.
Walking is not a sport. Neither is there a winner nor a loser at walking. Walking is, by its very nature, solitary with plenty of room for silence.
When walking, only the brilliance of the sky, the splendor of the landscape, and the charm of the people matter. Rahul got all of them. He listened to the people, though reserved his solutions for another occasion.
Currently, both serving and aspiring heads of state in the world do not walk, so they are less receptive. If they walk at all, it is reduced to the fetishistic activity of carrying a water bottle, a backpack, and an App on the body. Above all, the walk will be confined to a secluded area, so they fail to take all that the place and the people offer and give back a bit of their own in return.
The poor and the illiterate people in the world are perplexed at the swiftness of Big Capital in a globalized world which eventually reaches their doorsteps in the form of mega projects and round-the-clock services.
It is no more banks that are the largest source of money from external sources for a country. So people are not in a position to know the real owners of a big-ticket investment project coming up in their neighborhood.
"People are waiting for their leaders to heed the call of the wild"
If the poor and the illiterate in the world are confused and perplexed, employees throughout the world are at their wits' end as more and more machinery is coming (today it is robotics) to cut wages and to render them redundant.
On the global front, sharper international rivalries and competitive wars aimed at keeping empires intact are on. Weaker nations are going bankrupt; the whole ownership of the means of production is concentrated in fewer hands (the 1 percent or even less than that).
Following in the footsteps of Gandhi, all heads of state and aspiring world leaders should start walking into the midst of their people to explain what this great onslaught of Big Capital means for them.
People are waiting for their leaders to heed the call of the wild to give a break to the call of the sedentary networked world.
The need of the hour is the Philosopher King as advocated by Plato in Republic. Gandhi has already become one on his terms.
Now it is the turn of others to hit the road.
*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.
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